With the vast assortment of cooking styles, international cuisines and gastronomic approaches in the world today, you’d be hard pressed to win unanimous agreement from temperamental foodies about much of anything regarding the creation of food. But if there is one thing a professional chef or a dedicated home cook will agree upon, it is this: A good chef’s knife is an indispensable tool in the production of serious culinary dishes.
And by a good chef’s knife, I mean exactly that: a GOOD chef’s knife. Not the $15 Walmart special and not a cheaply forged blade tagged with a jacked-up price because it has the mug shot of the latest celebrity chef stamped on it. I mean a heavy, appropriately weighted and balanced knife with a true bolster (that piece of metal between the handle and the blade that protects your fingers and provides extra weight for better balance) … a dependable implement that slices, dices, carves and chops with unerring accuracy and ease of use.
It is not unlike a pair of good hairdressing shears is to a hair stylist. I can go to Sally Beauty and buy a $25 pair of shears that will fall to pieces in three months and tear rather than slice cleanly through the hair shaft or I can spend a lot more money and get a pair of perfectly weighted and balanced shears that will cut with razor-sharp precision and last me a lifetime. (Mine, incidentally, cost $800 and I will smack your fingers if you touch them. No, really.)
Therein, however, lies the problem. The issue for most home cooks is that a good chef’s knife can be very, very expensive. The purchase price of a standard Wüsthof, Shun or Henckels 8” chef’s knife (the knife brands favored by most professional chefs) is around $150-$200. That’s for ONE knife. For that price, I expect the damn thing to chop my vegetables for me, maybe throw a load of laundry or two in the washer as a bonus.
There is no getting around the fact that a good chef’s knife is crucial for producing serious food. At these kinds of prices, however, what is the serious home cook on a budget to do?
Enter Forschner by Victorinox.
I have been a serious devotee of these knives for the past 10 years. They have consistently ranked highly in performance measurements across the board, even when compared directly against the Wüsthof, Shun and Henckels brands, and they are a fraction of the cost. Victorinox, incidentally, is also the manufacturer of the original Swiss Army knife, so that should tell you something about the quality and performance right there as well.
I LOVE the performance of these knives. I’ve butchered chickens and cut up tough-as-nails butternut squash many times with my Forschners and have never had a problem. They are comfortable, well-balanced and wicked sharp, holding a fine edge effortlessly. The rocking action on the blade is easy, allowing you to use the entire length of the blade for fine mincing, and requires very little pressure. They are well-forged as well for both right- and left-handed use … my leftie friends tell me they are quite comfortable for them as well.
I own a collection of Victorinox Forschner knives from their Fibrox line: I have a 10” chef’s knife, an 8” chef’s knife, a 6” boning knife, a 10” serrated knife and (2) 4” paring knives, all of which, with shipping, set me back about $150 … about the price I’d pay for one chef’s knife from the more expensive Wüsthof, Shun or Henckels lines (and for virtually identical performance).
If you have smaller hands, like I do, an 8” blade will probably be more comfortable to handle and will cost you around $30-$35. For a 10”, which is typically more than sufficient for larger paws, expect to pay about $10 more. I have both, as I feel the one flaw in my Forschners is that they are slightly less weighty than their more expensive counterparts. Although this is slight enough that I find it makes little difference in routine performance, the 10” chef’s knife does a better job for me with more robust kitchen chores like butchering chickens.
As with any good piece of equipment, you need to take care of your knives well. Mine never go in the dishwasher and I have them professionally sharpened about once a year. In between professional sharpenings, I keep the edges honed with a few swipes of a good knife sharpener (I own and am a huge fan of Chantry knife sharpeners as I can sharpen my serrated blades with them as well). Attentive care will keep your blades in good service for a long time; I’ve had some of my blades for 10 years and they perform just as well today as they did the day I took them out of the box.